We all know that outdoor play is vital for children’s physical, mental and emotional health, and post-lockdown, outdoor play will be essential in helping children to recover. However, as the number of public playgrounds continues to decline, Mark Hardy, Chair of the Association of Play Industries, explains why we are in danger of short-changing children, particularly those from the one-in-eight UK households without gardens and those in the most disadvantaged areas.
Away from home, playgrounds are the most popular spaces for outdoor play at least once a week, closely followed by green spaces, and they are also the third most adventurous place for children’s play. According to a new national survey from the University of Reading of 1919 adult respondents, children on average spend more time playing in playgrounds than any other place.
Despite this, playgrounds are hugely under-funded and are disappearing fast. If playgrounds continue to decline at the current rate, our communities could look very different very soon and once a playground disappears, it is usually gone forever.
What the lockdowns have taught us
During one of the most difficult periods in recent times, parents have relied upon public playgrounds to keep their children mentally and physically well and to provide some respite for themselves. As with so many aspects of our society, the lockdowns have forced us to see what really matters – the building blocks of our communities that we can’t live without – and our playgrounds really do matter.
Shrewsbury Town Council conducted research showing a dramatic rise in footfall in public play facilities over the course of the pandemic, demonstrating how important these assets are to children and local communities. The SLCC, which represents the chief officers to over 5000 town, parish and community councils, are calling on the Government to recognise the importance of play in exercise, provide financial support for shared public spaces and long-term legacy funding for parks and playgrounds.
Summer of Play
For more than a year, children across the UK have been forced to spend time indoors, inactive and isolated due to COVID-19 restrictions. There has been an unprecedented increase in children’s mental health problems, drastically reduced physical activity and a rise in screen time.
In response, the Association of Play Industries is joining other organisations and experts in an urgent call for play to be central to children’s recovery from the restrictions placed upon them. We are calling for everyone to help make this summer a #SummerofPlay for children across the UK and, as playgrounds are the number one place to play, this means calling for urgent, central investment in public, free-to-access play spaces.
All UK children need and deserve a promise on play
The Government is now presented with a rare opportunity to mitigate the damage to children caused by lockdown and to support their health and wellbeing for generations to come, with one simple yet powerful public health measure: the UK urgently needs a national network of sustainable public play spaces to support children’s health.
Scotland’s First Minister has promised a £60m fund to renew every play park in Scotland, so that all children have access to a place to play in their own community. The Association of Play Industries has written to the Prime Minister, the Health Minister and the Minister for Housing, Communities & Local Government, urging the UK Government to match this commitment to children’s outdoor play throughout the entire UK.
We have also written to the new Children’s Commissioner for England in the sincere hope of a fresh approach to tackling the serious issues facing children and young people. We have appealed for a strong emphasis on prevention and highlighted the protective nature of outdoor play in dealing with children’s mental health and childhood obesity.
Seven reasons to support #SummerofPlay
1. For children in the one-in-eight UK households without gardens, playgrounds are often the only outdoor space in which to play
2. Playgrounds are spaces created just for children – a rare thing in today’s world
3. Playgrounds are a free public service and open to all children
4. Playgrounds are the heart of communities. Just like the local shop, pub or school, playgrounds connect people every day
5. Playgrounds are inclusive. Children from all walks of life and all abilities play there
6. Children play out more when they have a playground nearby
7. Playgrounds help tackle childhood obesity, mental health and sleep problems
It is essential that the Government sets out a clear plan for investment in outdoor play, so that all children from all backgrounds across the UK have access to community, doorstep playgrounds. There is a real danger that these spaces could disappear for good with catastrophic effects on children’s mental and physical health unless the Government acts now.